Coffee – South Indian black treat

Originally published in Finnish on 7th April, 2017 

Would you like to have a cup of tasty, aromatic coffee from estates in Karnataka? I guess you would enjoy it as much as I do. In Finland, I used to drink my coffee plain black, but the local Karnataka “kaapi” is a sip of pure luxury: a small drip of really strong filter coffee mixed with frothing milk and a proper spoonful with sugar. The chai and coffee vendors usually serve the drink in a tiny steel cup – that is the best way to drink coffee I ever could imagine!

Baba Budan, a devoted Muslim, brought the first coffee beans to Karnataka during 1600´s hiding them in his robe. He got familiar to drinking coffee during his pilgrimage to Mecca and fell in love with the taste. Coffee bushes grew and produced harvest on the shady mountains of Karnataka. Growing alongside the tropical trees, the beans got a very special, sophisticated aroma. There were plenty of buyers – most demanding those exact beans. During the British colony, coffee already became a successful export product. Still today, coffee cultivation in India is remarkable – the country is one of the largest coffee producers in the world. The local coffee brands usually mix pure coffee with chickory roots. That kind of mix is believed to be more stomach friendly compared to pure coffee, but the flavour sticks out slightly.

Typically, the coffee estates in India are by area less than hectares. Still, the estates give livelihood for more than 1,5 million families because of high demand of manual processes. Working and climbing on the coffee mountains is tough. It is a common sight on coffee estates to meet perseverant female workers carrying saplings or harvest in large baskets on the top of their head. Usually, they work long hours barefoot, dodging between the bushes. Because the coffee bushes flourish best in shade, they usually are planted between the trees. Due to that the estates change the landscape less than for example tea estates, still affecting the ecosystem. The coffee estates often produce more than coffee only: palm trees, oranges, bananas and spices, like pepper, cardamom, vanilla and cinnamon. Fertilizers and plant protection products are used openly. Organic and fair trade coffee brands are warmly welcome, though not so common in India, yet.

Climate change is a threat for coffee business all over the world. Recently, here in Karnataka, the biggest challenge has been the bad drought. Not so long time ago, I visited Coorg, a famous coffee area located few hundred kilometres South-West from Bangalore. The last harvesting time for coffee beans had been in February-March, now it was time for collecting the pepper. Agile men climbed high against tree trunks surrounded by pepper vines, women carried sticks and branches. On the steep mountain slopes the weather was pleasant compared to urban Bangalore, but drought so obvious. In sunny, open areas the leaves of coffee bushes were wizened and brown. All the people who live of coffee cultivation or other agriculture, are praying for refreshing pre-monsoon rain. Honestly, even I can admit that I´m a bit desperately longing for rain here in Bangalore to counterbalance this almost 40 degrees heat, even though I can neatly prepare and sip my coffee in the shade at home.